Trump says the Mueller report exonerates him, but that's not exactly true

  • President Donald Trump claims "complete and total exoneration" from Attorney General William Barr's summary of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation report.
  • In fact, Mueller writes that his probe "does not exonerate" the president.
  • Barr notes, though, that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein "have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense."
President Donald Trump speaks upon his departure from West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., March 24, 2019.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
President Donald Trump speaks upon his departure from West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., March 24, 2019.

President Donald Trump claimed "complete and total exoneration" on Sunday after Attorney General William Barr released a summary of special counsel Robert Mueller's report on his Russia investigation.

In fact, Mueller specifically wrote that the probe "does not exonerate" the president, according to Trump's attorney general.

In a four-page letter to top members of Congress, Barr laid out the key conclusions from Mueller's investigation, which has captivated much of the country and frustrated Trump for nearly two years. The probe into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election, whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow and whether the president obstructed justice ended Friday as Mueller filed his report to the Justice Department.

Barr writes that Mueller did not conclude whether Trump obstructed justice. The attorney general noted, though, that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein "have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense."

The top Justice Department official also writes that the probe "did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated" with Russia.

Based on those conclusions, Trump cheered Barr's letter on Sunday.

"There was no collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction, and none whatsoever. And it was a complete and total exoneration," Trump told reporters Sunday as he left south Florida to head back to Washington.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also claimed "exoneration" on Sunday.

But that's not exactly what happened in Barr's summary of the Mueller report. In fact, the attorney general points out that Mueller did not exonerate the president.

"While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him," Barr quotes Mueller as saying in his report.

That distinction has already emerged as one of the biggest points of contention over Barr's summary. Democrats have questioned how the attorney general arrived at that conclusion. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., has already said he wants to bring Barr in to testify.

"Special Counsel Mueller worked for 22 months to determine the extent to which President Trump obstructed justice. Attorney General Barr took 2 days to tell the American people that while the President is not exonerated, there will be no action by DOJ," he said in a tweet.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Ca., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also disputed Trump's notion claim that the report vindicated him.

"The fact that Special Counsel Mueller's report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public without any further delay," they said in a joint statement.

Later in the statement, they said that "for the president to say he is completely exonerated directly contradicts the words of Mr. Mueller and is not to be taken with any degree of credibility."

That distinction, however, didn't matter to the president or his political operation, as the 2020 presidential race heats up.

Trump's campaign claimed in a release that the president "has been completely and fully vindicated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller."

Trump, while denying he colluded with Russia or obstructed justice, had repeatedly slammed Mueller's probe as a "witch hunt."